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Learn to develop Android and iOS applications and Web Development within six weeks from a teacher with real-world experience. Get a 75% discount if you buy it here!

I'm taking Rob's course with absolutely no prior experience. A good week later it feels like I know HTML and CSS like the back of my hand." — Jonathan M.
Who knew that learning how to start coding was this simple. The course is clear, concise, and loaded with extras!! Thanks a ton! — Raheim Smith
Even when the course gets a bit complicated, there's always the Discussion forum where Rob as well as other students are actively helping each other. This course is not to be missed. — Ingrid S.
Rob is an excellent teacher and uses simple terms of speech all throughout the course. — Ankit Rawat
I have been very impressed with the course material and the crystal clear explanation of concepts. Any beginner who opts for this course will feel enriched at the time of course completion. — Shiva Rajagopal
I'm a Copywriter in a Digital Agency, I was searching for courses that'll help me broaden my skill set. Before signing up for Rob's course I tried many web development courses, but no course comes close to this course. — Shivram
Easy to pick up & quick to get running with, the course has given me a great start into programming. — Peter Greaves

How to set up a multi-user school blog

School blogs are becoming increasing popular ways for students to work creatively and collaboratively, share there work with the world and receive feedback from peers, teachers and parents & governers. This meets the Ofsted criteria for outstanding use of ICT.

This post explains how to set up a school-wide blog system under your own domain, allowing comments and contributions from staff and students, and different blog sites for each department and/or year group. It should take no more than 10 minutes to work through.

1. Buy a domain name

You can use your existing domain – talk to your IT department about this – but it’s probably quicker and easier to buy your own. You can do this through any number of hosting companies (my company, ecowebhosting.co.uk, charges £5.99+VAT for 2 years, and then £4.99+VAT per month for hosting on the Standard package, which includes everything you need. Alternatively, you can host it on your current school servers – again, ask your IT department about this.

Keep the domain name simple – stmichaelschoolblog.org.uk for example, so that people can remember it.

2. Install WordPress

This can be done with a click from most hosts (or with a few kind words to your IT department) and setup is very quick. Choose Multi-user (subdomains or folders – if you’re not sure which, go for folders). The main account will be the administrator account, from where you can create blogs for each department, year group or class.

3. Choose a theme

There are thousands of free themes at http://wordpress.org/themes/. Pick one you like, and then click Appearance –> Themes in your WordPress admin area and search for and install the theme.

4. Set up Multisite

This is the trickiest step – you might want to get your IT department to do this for you. Go to Tools –> Network Setup, enter the settings you want and make the changes to the files requested. The files are in the webspace for the domain – if you’re not sure what that is, find a techie person, or leave a note in the comments and I’ll help you out.

You’ll be prompted to log out and log in again, and you’ll now have a My Sites menu in the top left of the screen. Hover over it, and click Network Admin.

5. Add your first site

Click Create a new site and enter the details for your first site (perhaps for your English department, or form 7A). You should put the email address of the teacher that will be managing that site, and they will be sent the admin login details.

Once the site it is created, you can edit options like the theme for it in the same way as for other sites.

6. Allow students to sign up

Finally, click My Sites (top left) –> Network Admin and then click Setting –> Network Settings. Tick the option ‘User accounts may be registered’. Students will then have the ability to sign up and create accounts.

That’s it! There’s a lot more you can do with WordPress – it’s well documented online, and is reasonably easy to use – but this guide should be enough to get you and your students blogging. Good luck, and let me know how it goes in the comments!

 

 

 

Blogging is not a good litmus test for your ideas

An article by Nathan Kontny has recently been doing the rounds on HN encouraging founders to start a blog teaching their user-base something as a test of whether the idea is worth continuing with. The thrust of the argument was

If you want to know if your idea is any good, first check if you even have any interest in persevering. Try teaching before you try selling.

I enjoyed the article, and it’s a neat idea (and a free alternative to the classic landing page/Adwords combination), but as an entrepeneur in the very early stages of blogging, I think there’s two big problems with the blogging strategy.

First, blogging is hard. Kontny writes that

If you don’t have the fuel to simply write 500 words, you sure as hell won’t have the fuel to keep running your business when the excitement wears off.

I love what I do. I love building stuff, meeting people, teaching and starting businesses. But I don’t love writing about it. Especially when you don’t have a following (check out my 9 followers on Twitter), blogging feels like writing a letter in order to throw it away. Crafting an article, from headline to opening paragraph, to content to closing paragraph, is a challenge, a chore, a learned skill. If you’re a founder, you probably didn’t get into it for the writing.

My point is, just because you find writing about what you do on a blog challenging, it doesn’t mean that you won’t love actually doing it. It’s just that writing is difficult, and it’s not easy to motivate yourself when you don’t have a large audience. Writing feels like time wasted when you could be doing something useful.

I see Kontny’s point that his lack of interest in the subject of his new startup rang alarm bells, but I don’t think that finding blogging hard is necessarily a sign that you should do something else.

Second, getting an audience is even harder. As an alternative to driving traffic to a landing page, blogging sucks. You not only have to write good content with catchy titles and well researched ideas, but you have to get it out there somewhow – submitting it to the right sites, SEO or paid marketing.

This is not simple, generally not free, and certainly not fast. It’s really tough to build an audience, and again, if you’re a founder, you probably didn’t get into it for the blogging. So just because your blog doesn’t pick up a great deal of attention doesn’t mean your idea is a waste of time. And conversely, people may love the free tips you give away, but does that really tell you whether or not your startup idea is a good one?

I’m not saying blogging to test an idea is never a good way to go, but as someone who is at the very early stages of building an online profile, and who knows how demanding it is to publish content regularly and get it read, I’d rather spend some cash on Adwords any day.

My experiences with Code Club (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts on my experiences volunteering with Code Club at St Lukes Primary School in Cambridge. My first session is in two weeks, so this is just my impressions before I start.

First off, I love the idea. Coding is just beginning to gain traction in UK schools, and as a concept, using coders to teach has huge benefits for the students, teachers, and the volunteers themselves. I’m really looking forward to getting started.

Second, the website is excellent. Signup was fast and straightforward – I contacted one school in my area, who it turned out had just taken on another volunteer. After a couple of weeks I was notified about St Luke’s – I sent an email through the website and after a couple of emails and a phone call we were set for September. A great experience.

Third, I had a brief exchange with one of the founders over email – they contacted me about CRBs (a crucial thing to get right) and were friendly and approachable, another big tick.

Fourth, the materials look great. I wouldn’t have had a clue how to approach Python with ten year olds, but the materials are well made, attractive and the coding tasks seem engaging and interesting. I’ll have more feedback when I try them out, but for now I’m confident that I have some great content to deliver.

Finally, they have done a great job of publicising themselves. I’ve been surprised by the number of people that have heard of them, and their growth in terms of the number of schools on board in a little over a year is impressive. Write-ups in the press have been very positive. They had a good idea at the right time and have implemented it well.

I’ll write more about my experiences after my first session – if you’re running a club or have any advice, please do get in touch in the comments or through Twitter.

About Me

robI am a developer, teacher and entrepeneur working primarily in education based in Cambridge, UK. Currently, I am teaching students to develop apps at Stephen Perse School in Cambridge and developing an app for the CIMT MEP materials for Plymouth University. I run the Cambridge University STIMULUS scheme, placing university students in local schools as teaching assistants. I am a trainer on the Osiris Outstanding Teacher Intervention. I also own and run Eco Web Hosting (read reviews here).

I have a 2:1 in Mathematics from Cambridge University, and taught Mathematics for ten years at Highgate School, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School and the Stephen Perse Foundation. I also have a Masters in Education, and a degree in Theology from the University of London. I’m a volunteer for Code Club at St Luke’s School in North Cambridge.

I am also a freelance web and app developer, specialising in PHP/MySQL backends and jQuery Mobile and Cordova frontend work. I’m currently working on Freelance Aggregator and BasketRecovery.net as side projects.

You can get in touch through Twitter, or by leaving a message below.

Teaching students to build apps

Coding is slowly becoming accepted as something that our children need to learn. Not only are the skills of coding needed for the UK to compete in international markets, but coding is becoming recognised as a way to teach skills of logic, organisation and design. It’s even been called the new Latin.

So far so good. But there is a problem here – when I’ve taught coding to kids, while there has been a fair amount of excitement at being able to control a computer in a new way, there has been a disconnect between what they can do with code and what they want to achieve. We’re selling the idea that coding can enable them to create apps, games, and websites, but the early lessons are a real turn off form many as they learn how to make text bold, add the title to a page and open links in new windows. Even after a few weeks’ of lessons, most students are a long way from seeing the big picture of how they can use these languages to create.

This is why I am going to be working with students at the Stephen Perse Foundation to build apps directly, without any coding. Programming is really just a means to an end, just as we use language to describe emotions and tell stories. For me, the most interesting (and most difficult) part of making an app is the design and content. An app or website has to be attractive and functional, have great content, and allow the user to do, learn or enjoy something in a way they can’t do with any of the myriad apps that are already available – this is a big ask.

I’ve created a system that will allow the students to focus on the content and interaction and build apps that allow them to teach others a topic (school-based or otherwise) without any coding. I’ll give more information on the app in a future post, and I’m going to be posting regularly with updates on how the project is going, and what the feedback is from the students.

If you’ve done anything like this before, I’d love to hear from you – just leave a comment here or message me on Twitter.